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SEN – Reading & Writing

Francesca Barrett is an SEN teaching assistant. She has written a guest post below, detailing her reading and writing experience with SEN students.

For some pupils simple tasks like reading and writing can be a difficult one, especially if they come under the umbrella ‘Special Educational Needs.’  These pupils are the ones that require a little more help in certain areas of their learning, with reading and writing high on the list.  Dyslexia and dyspraxia are two specific learning difficulties that affect the way in which a pupil learns to read and write.  These difficulties can affect some pupils only slightly, with others really struggling in their learning.  Their confidence and self-esteem become seriously affected and motivation is lost, but with a huge amount of encouragement and praise pupils can slowly overcome these challenges.


Many primary schools reward pupils for achieving different reading levels and for a pupil who had trouble reading this can be very disheartening.  The others pupils are three levels ahead and change their books every two days, whilst they still have the same book they had last week.  It would be a good idea to device a different reward scheme for those who are struggling with the possibility of time reading aloud to the teaching staff rewarded as part of the scheme.  For very young pupils who are just starting on the reading path, books with built in sounds are a great too and will help them link a letter shape with the sound it makes.  Flash cards and picture cards are also highly successful, as a pupil who can pronounce a word will be able to see which letters make up that word.

For older pupils allowing them to listen to an audio version of a set book as they read along is extremely beneficial.  They will be able to see how each word is pronounced and the possibility of skipping large chunks of texts will be limited.  This is particular useful when dealing with complicated or challenging books such as Shakespeare or a language book.  The use of a laptop or computer for homework or essays will alleviate any worries pupils may have due to bad writing skills, ineligible handwriting and spelling mistakes.  Pupils will be able to concentrate on the content without added pressure to turn out a presentable piece of work.  Although most software offering a spell check, it would be a good idea to encourage pupils to use a dictionary so they can compare their spelling and the correct spelling.  Advising them to keep a small notebook of any words they have had trouble spelling will help them remember the correct way to spell these particular words.

When preparing worksheets, adapt them to include text that is easily understandable, relevant images and uncomplicated diagrams and check that all pupils can work from them.  Example hand-outs are also a great tool for a pupil who struggles with putting things in order i.e information or stories, which can make essays and coursework difficult to complete.  If struggling pupils can see examples of how their work should be set out this will be a great benefit to them.  Even taking the time to show them how to rearrange information they have gathered and turning it into a piece of work that is easily readable and flows well from paragraph to paragraph can be all they need.  There are so many things, big and small, a teaching assistant can do for a pupil who struggles with reading, writing or both, but whatever they do will be one step closer to that pupil overcoming the challenges they face.  Reading out a question in a way in which you know that pupil will understand means they will be able to answer that question the same as the rest of the class.  Taking the time to show them examples, or sitting with them whilst they complete their work will give them the reassurance they need and make a huge difference to their learning.

2013: Take Time Out and Reflect

This post is slightly off topic, but it’s about a subject that everyone should have at the forefront of their minds at the end of each year. Pressing the ‘stop’ button and looking back at the previous year, taking time out to assess what we achieved, lost or what worked for us can help us shape our objectives for the coming year.

Reflect on 2013You may jump from one day to the next without taking time out to examine your happiness (or unhappiness) and you may not be able to ascertain why you’re feeling the way you do. As a Teaching Assistant (or soon to be), there are multiple issues to deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes you don’t have the time to assess where you could have improved the handling of a bad situation or how to enable more spare time for yourself. You may be completing a course that isn’t going so well or undertaking voluntary work which isn’t appealing to you anymore and are wondering whether you’ve made poor choices in 2013. Maybe you succeeded in an area without realising?

When you look back at 2013, what did you achieve or not achieve? Some achievements we make public to others, some are deeply personal and we keep to ourselves, but if want to learn how to make plans for 2014, take a step back, put your feet up and start noting down some answers:

Challenges last year

  • Note down some challenges you faced which made you feel uneasy, hopeless or sad and detail why you felt this way.
  • If faced with a challenge, how can you react and deal with the situation better?
  • How can you inject positivity in the way you handle challenges?
  • What can you do each day in 2014 to improve your self worth and enable you to handle bad situations differently?

Joyful moments last year:

  • Can you think of two instances that made you laugh wildly?
  • What do these instances have in common? Were they with similar people and/or places?
  • How can you increase the number of these situations in 2014?
  • Were there sorrowful times last year? If these times occurred frequently with specific people or places, how can you reduce them in 2014?

Letting go last year:

  • Has your life improved by letting go of things? If so, detail why your life improved.
  • What are you still holding on to and what impact is it having on your life now?

Objectives last year:

  • What objectives did you have last year (promotion, courses, improved social life etc)?
  • Which objectives were successful and why?
  • What objectives can you set for 2014 and how will you reach your goals?
  • What worked well for you in 2013 that can help you get what you want in 2014?

Time for yourself last year:

  • Note down four activities you wanted to make time for in 2013, but couldn’t?
  • Why couldn’t you make time for these activities and how could this be improved?
  • How will you ensure you make adequate time for yourself in 2014?

 Achievements last year:

  • What did I achieve last year that I would consider a success?
  • What steps did I take to obtain this achievement?
  • How can I ensure I achieve in 2014?

To Our Facebook Fans…

Attention all Teaching Assistant Focus Facebook fans – please can I have a few minutes of your time.

At Teaching Assistant Focus, we aim to provide all TAs (or those interested in knowing more about TA work) with free resources and helpful information. We encourage you to ‘like us’ on Facebook as you’ll find informative updates about TA stories/news/resources/freebies/competitions.

Due to Facebook changes, ‘liking’ us won’t necessarily mean you will see our posts in your Facebook news feeds (unless you visit us every day, proving to the Facebook servers you are interested in our posts). Of course, we don’t expect you to visit us every day, so to receive notifications of any updates, you may want to do the following (which will only take less than a minute):

  • Visit the Teaching Assistant Focus Facebook fan page.
  • Click on the ‘Like’ button, if you already haven’t.
  • The button will change to ‘Liked’, in which case hover over it and select ‘Get Notifications’.
  • You will now see a tick next to the selection.

Facebook notifications

That’s it!

Now you will be notified whenever we add information to the Facebook page.

Many thanks for your time.




Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants

Last month, we wrote about reports in the media that suggested the Department for Education might consider reducing TA numbers and the uproar it created within teaching circles.

The video presentation below by Rob Webster on Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants succinctly describes the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project, the results of which were interpreted in Reform’s Must do better: Spending on schools (May 2013).

Rob Webster was a researcher on the DISS project, so well placed to talk about what the research really said and the media reporting of it. His presentation details the proposed model to make better use of teaching assistants along with various case studies demonstrating how the project team’s ideas can be put into practice.

The presentation lasts around 40 minutes, but has been summarised below if you don’t have time to view.

The suggestion that the Government might take seriously Reform’s recommendation to reduce the number of TAs have provoked concern among TAs and schools more widely. Rob Webster will be addressing this issue in an article for TA Focus in the coming weeks.



Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants (Nasen) summary notes

The main objectives of the presentation:

  • Why schools need to re-evaluate how TAs are deployed in schools.
  • What can schools do to release the potential of TAs?

Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) (2003 – 2009)

Key results:

  • TAs were employed to help struggling students and teacher workloads (the latter was achieved successfully).
  • Pupils who received a high level of TA support made less progress over the school year compared with pupils who received little or no TA support. This finding could not be explained by pupil characteristics such as SEN or prior attainment.

Scale of project:

  • Over 17,800 national surveys.
  • 8,200 pupils in 153 schools were assessed in terms of impact of TA support.
  • Over 680 students and over 100 TAs in schools were observed.
  • Case studies in 65 schools.
  • Interviews with over 280 school heads, SENCos, teachers and TAs.
  • Adult-to-student talk in 16 lessons analysed.

Two project phases:

Wave 1 – targeting approximately 2,500 students in years 1, 3, 7 and 10.

Wave 2 – targeting 5,500 students in years 2, 6 and 9.

What was the impact of TA involvement? For English, Maths and Science, it was found that the more help/support the students received from a TA, the less well they did.

This was a consistent find across all year groups and core subjects.

Was this down to student characteristics i.e. SEN, pupils who are making less progress etc?  Multi-level regression was used to account for these factors, so the independent effect of TA support could be analysed.

One of the main messages from the research (often lost in the media reporting) is that TAs are not at fault The explanation for the pupil progress results lie in the way TAs are organised and deployed.

The model used to describe the three main areas within the project:

1. Deployment (how schools use TAs)

The observations of students with teachers and TAs showed non-SEN students had more interaction with teachers compared to SEN students. Those needing the most input from teachers were spending less time with them.

2. Practice

It was found that TA explanations were sometimes inaccurate or misleading, and TAs supplied answers to students too readily. The TAs were more concerned with getting tasks done, rather than exploring more and focusing on how to ensure learning and understanding.

3. Preparedness

75% of the teachers questioned had no training to work with or manage TAs, or any time to meet with TAs. The TAs were therefore underprepared and only received crucial information during lessons, rather than beforehand.

Currently, TA support is alternative to teacher support as opposed to the intended additional support. Once again, TAs are not to blame, but schools need to re-think the way they approach the three areas above.

How can TAs add value without replacing teachers? In recent years, there has been heavy investment in TAs compared to teachers, although research has shown that SEN is not a priority when raising standards within schools.

It was noted that the Ofsted report in Feb 2013 showed schools were spending Pupil Premiums to fund new/existing TAs with little impact.

Effective Deployment of TAs (EDTA) project 2010/2011

40 teachers and TAs in 10 schools addressed the three key areas from the DISS project. The project lasted a year – one area worked on per term.

Started off with an audit:

  • What requires change?
  • Build on good practice

Decisions school leaders need to make about deployment:

  • What do we want the role of TAs to be?
  • Teaching/non-teaching roles?

Problem lies when TA roles ‘drift’ from non-teaching to teaching, so should there be a limit to what schools can expect from TAs?

What can be done within the classroom to help SEN students instead of using the current model? It was noted that many teachers are unsure whether written TA deployment policies existed within their schools.

Ofsted states teachers are responsible for the progress and development of all students. There is an emphasis on preparing students to become independent.

A number of case studies are presented. Research shows that when TAs lead interventions, there are positive outcomes. Interventions are not currently drawn into the classroom, so there is a distinct problem with students bridging the gap between work inside and outside lessons. TAs and teachers need to communicate and set aside time to bridge the gap.

Unhelpful patterns of TA behaviour:

  • impulse to complete tasks
  • need to allow time for students to think/respond
  • students need social interaction with peers
  • giving answers to students without encouraging student to find answers themselves


Typically, TAs are ‘going into lessons blind’ and need planning before lessons.

After suggested changes were made (e.g. improving the quality and clarity of lesson plans), TAs felt more confident and appreciated.

Guidance on making better use of TAs, described briefly here, can be found in Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants, by Russell, Webster and Blatchford.


Useful links:



Classroom Support Staff Handbook

teaching personnel handbookTeaching Personnel, the UK’s leading recruitment specialist for education, has compiled a free teaching assistant handbook designed to give an overall view of teaching assistant roles, responsibilities and their position within the education system.

The handbook is a fantastic read for those just starting out or for those who want to know more about the diversity of the TA role.

The handbook includes the following topics:

  • TA roles and responsibilities (how TAs support pupils, teachers, the school and school curriculum)
  • Working in schools (the structure of the school system and academic year)
  • Working on supply (how Teaching Personnel can help TAs find work)
  • Working in the classroom (learning, behaviour management and social/health education)
  • Professional Practice (including teamwork, dress code, first aid etc)
  • Special Educational Needs (SEN definition, code of practice and types of SEN)
  • Career progression
  • Educational Abbreviations
  • Useful websites

Download Teaching Personnel’s Classroom Support Staff Handbook (PDF)

A Day in the Life of a Teaching Assistant

The following ‘day in the life of…’ was written by a level 2 TA course student, who shadowed an employed teaching assistant, Diane, for a day. The article describes a typical day for a teaching assistant in secondary education in the UK.  More about teaching assistant courses.

Diane gets to work by 8 o’clock, a teaching assistant at her local high school, she uses the three quarters of an hour before lessons start to get resources ready and any photocopying that the teachers in her department may need doing. This is also the time when she finds out which teachers are off sick, if they’ve left any work and who will be covering their lessons. Part of her role is to make sure the cover teachers have everything they need.

At registration Diane makes a note of the students that are missing, and checks on the computer to see if there is a reason, or if their parents have phoned in to say why they are off. Armed with a list of missing students from the department she heads off to phone parents and guardians, this is often one of the more difficult parts of the job, most of the parents are happy to hear from the school, recognising that if their child hasn’t made it to school something may have happened to them, but some seem to think that this is an intrusion into their family lives.

Often it is a simple mistake, with one parent assuming the other had phone the school to say the student in question is sick in bed.

Teaching assistant

First period on this day is paperwork, compiling the student records and updating test and exam scores, but today Diane’s other role as a first aider is more important, one of the boys has slipped and hit his head. Her training means that Diane knows to send another student to get the school secretary to call an ambulance, she also makes sure the student comes straight back in case she is needed again. Often in these cases Diane would have to accompany the child to the hospital, but his parents live within five minutes of the school, and his Mum is there almost as fast as the ambulance. The student is sitting up and talking to the paramedics, but they decide he needs to go to hospital and take him and his Mum off.

Second period is Diane’s first of the day to interact with the pupils, in this lesson her role is to help some of the weaker students when they struggle, here she explains she has to be quite careful.

“My daughter is also a teacher, and a few years ago she had a lot of problems with a teaching assistant in her classroom, this lady would interrupt her whilst she was talking to the class, shout out answers and occasionally corrected her in front of the students.” Diane explains, “it was so upsetting for her, she began to have problems in the class with the students copying this teaching assistant.”

Instead Diane sees her role as that of an expert learner. She works across a number of subjects, some of which she has little or no background in, but here rather than try to teach the weaker students, her role is to make sure the students are listening and that they understand the methods used.

Break is a wet and windy affair, but Diane’s role is to patrol around the spots where students might be smoking, and to try and stop them leaving school premises. What advice would she offer to anyone starting this job?

“Good wellies and a warm jacket.” She laughs as we go round the back of one of the buildings. “Girls,” she breaks away to talk to a group of girls. “You know that’s against the rules, now can I have your lighters.” The girls stub out their cigarettes guiltily and surprisingly hand over their lighters to her.

After break is the block in her time table that Diane had circled and drawn a smiley face next to. Six students are waiting for her outside an empty classroom, she shoos them in as she takes off her jacket, “Coats on the pegs bags under your desks,” she calls as she makes her way to the front of the room, “Right you lot according to Miss. Jones need to practise your descriptive writing,” she checks her notes and turns back to the four boys and two girls, “So what might be a good topic to pick.”

Within minutes they’ve decided to write stories about climbing Everest, and here Diane seems to comes alive, encouraging and steering the pupils along the paths, praising, and giving constructive feedback as their stories unroll. It’s clear that these 50 minutes will make a huge difference to their learning.

Lunches are staggered to allow all the students space to eat. Diane heads towards the staff room to grab her lunch, but a desperate shout from one of the teachers calls her back, the computer in his classroom isn’t working, and he can’t leave the class alone to call IT support. Diane ducks back into her office to call up the IT guy from down the hall.

After lunch Diane is in two more classes, this time supporting an individual learner with special needs. Throughout the lessons she helps the student write down the written work, and puts in all her effort to keeping him on track. It’s a hard task, but she never stops smiling.

Between the two lesson as Diane steps into the corridor a student running past knocks her folders out of her arms. Suddenly she’s not the kindly calm Diane that she has been, the boy gets a dressing down worthy of a drill sergeant, “I may not be a teacher,” she explains, “but I am a member of staff here, and we all have a duty to ensure good and safe, behaviour.”

Finally the last bell goes and students stream out of the buildings, suddenly after all the noise and shouting the buildings are quiet. The staff start to come out their rooms, a little battle weary, but smiling now that the day is over. But today isn’t over yet for Diane.

“So many people think that being a TA starts when the pupils arrive and finish when they leave,” she says with a smile, “but I have detention to sort out.” She hurries off to the room where the students on detention are lounging, “Where’s Steven,” she demands, “and Cherie, Cherie Blake.” Less than a minute later she’s back, “there’s three that have decided not to turn up.” She says firmly. “Their parents will be pleased to know.”

She rings the offending student’s parents as she starts to send out the letters and texts to parents of students on detention over the next few days.

“Mrs Blake.” She says pleasantly as the phone is answered. “Cherie has decided not to turn up to her detention tonight, oh you didn’t know, well I’m sure you received the text I sent, and Cherie said that she knew about it when I asked her yesterday.” She pauses, “no Mrs Blake it wasn’t a bit of fun, we take bullying very seriously, well Mrs Blake if that’s what you think then I will book you an appointment with the headmaster.” She hangs up and counts to ten under her breath before smiling and carrying on to the next phone call, this one is much better, and she hangs up with a promise from the boys Dad that he will ground his son for the rest of the year.

“We have some, only a few, that think we’re picking on their son or daughter, but every member of staff knows they have the support of management.” She explains.

It’s nearly 5 o’clock when she finally leaves her office and heads home, “See you tomorrow.” She calls to the caretaker as they pass in the car park, and from her smile and cheerful tone it’s clear that despite the hard work and long day she’s had, she’s already looking forward to tomorrow.

“They know me,” she says referring to the students, “I’m in class helping, I’m with them at lunch making sure they’re safe, I go on field trips with them and I take them to visit colleges in year 11, if they fall over often I’m the one who patches them up, and yes, I’m the one who rings home to tell their parents they’ve got detention. I love my job, and I think my job loves me.”

The Life of a Male Teaching Assistant

Stephen Myers is a teaching assistant for a primary school in the West Midlands and has written a guest post on the challenges of working with SEN students.

“Seven years ago I decided to change my career path and, after much deliberation, settled on a training course to become a teaching assistant. As inferred, it wasn’t a split decision and there were a number of factors involved in the process. My daughter’s school friend is autistic and my daughter had told me about the wonderful job her friend’s teaching assistant had been doing to help support her in mainstream education.

I had been a cab driver for several years prior to my decision, but it was time to find something meaningful in life. Something that would make my daughter proud and a job that could enable me to work around my primary job as a single parent. But I was worried about being one of the few percent of male TAs. I worried about what my friends thought and whether I was actually up to the job of working with young people.

The process of finding a teaching assistant role back then wasn’t too difficult. I volunteered here and there for several months and completed a few courses and suddenly a TA role surfaced to help support some new TA students joining the school. The students begged me to take on the role, which I did and I haven’t been happier.

I got ribbed by my cabbie colleagues for a while (I was still working part time at the cab office), but when they saw how I had changed and grown, they supported me fully. I was also initially taken aback by how few male teaching assistants there are and felt a little intimidated working with so many (talented) women. They took me under their wings and I became the little brother of the family!

I love my job and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. In the last seven years, I’ve improved my knowledge by taking further specialist SEN courses and I’m looking at working in a special needs school at some point in the future. I know I’ve been a great role model for a number of students I’ve supported – all through understanding, listening and injecting a little sense of humour into the mix.

Some male students often find it difficult to communiate with female members of staff about personal problems, which I’ve helped them overcome.

My daughter is proud of what I’ve achieved and she’s even studying to become a teacher herself.”


Read John Woodcock’s Diary of a trainee Teaching Assistant

Charitable grants to help fund courses

Charitable grants for coursesSome of us may find we want to pursue a course, but are struggling with the financial strains of every day life. Many charities recognise this and are happy to help out financially with bills, clothing, living expenses and course fees.

Turn 2 Us is an organisation which provides information on benefits and grants.  Simply follow the link below to add your postcode, gender and age to find out which charities in your area can help.

>> Take me to the grants and benefits search

Teaching Assistant’s Handbook Level 2 Summary – part 2

This article is a continuation summary of the Teaching Assistant’s Handbook Level 2 by Teena Kamen, chapters 7 to 14. Summary of the first part of the book.

7 Supporting Learning Activities

A guide for the QCF unit ‘Supporting Learning Activities’.

In this chapter, the book discusses the way children learn and think,


including cognitive developmental theories such as Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner. Learning pathways and experiences are mentioned and activities are encouraged, in order to think about the process of learning.

The different types of learning styles are detailed:

  • Visual Learners – observation/reading
  • Auditory Learners – listening to instructions
  • Kinaesthetic Learners – through movement
  • Analytic Learners – organising into logical pieces
  • Global Learners – focusing on main ideas, not details

The curriculum framework

Long, medium and short term plans are discussed with key tasks and how the teaching assistant supports the teacher. The chapter includes details on how to plan learning activities based on individual needs – including selecting resources and observation and recording of responses. A planning sheet example is provided.

Each aspect of preparing, delivering and evaluating the learning activity is discussed in detail.

8 Supporting positive behaviour

A guide for QCF unit ‘Support positive behaviour’.

The eighth chapter of this book talks about the expectations of behaviour – parental and school expectations. Pupil behaviour is influenced by a number of external factors, which are discussed.

There are 8 suggested ways to encourage children’s positive behaviour and how staff in schools act as role models for the pupils. Examples of ‘school code of conduct’ are given.

Rewarding pupil behaviour is an important part of this chapter and details are given on how this can be implemented.

Difficult behaviour is discussed, along with how to recognise patterns of behaviour. Plans to help support difficult behaviour are given.

9 Improving own team and practice

A guide for QCF unit ‘Improve own team and practice’.

This chapter focuses on the effectiveness of teamwork and the importance of communicating with colleagues. There are a number of ways teaching assistants interact with other members of staff and this chapter encourages and examines positive working relationships.

10 Supporting the use of ICT for teaching and learning

A guide for QCF unit ‘Support the use of ICT for teaching and learning’.

ICT (Information and Communication Technology) is stressed as an important part of the national curriculum in this chapter and safety around the equipment is discussed. School policies and data protection are detailed and the various skills at primary/secondary school level.

A detailed list of ICT risks are included and how to deal with them.

11 Supporting learning environments

A guide for QCF units:

  • ‘Contribute to supporting bilingual leaners’
  • ‘Prepare and maintain learning environments’
  • ‘Provide displays in schools’
  • ‘Support children and young people’s play and leisure’

There are various aspects to the preparation of classes, such as adequate floor space and lighting/ventilation. Organising and checking classroom resources is an important part of this unit. Another important aspect is supporting English as an additional language.

12 Supporting special educational needs

To be used for QCF units:

  • ‘Support children and young people wit disabilities and special educational needs’
  • ‘Move and position individuals’
  • ‘Provide support for therapy sessions’

This chapter focuses on SEN (Special Educational Needs) and the legislation related to the topic. Assessments and plans are detailed – an example of an Individual Education Plan is given. Most importantly, the roles of those who support SEN pupils are given and a list of ways to support these pupils are detailed.

As an SEN teaching assistant, you would need to know exactly how to move pupil’s with physical disabilities. This chapter gives information on how this is done.

13 Supporting the wider curriculum

This is a guide for QCF units:

  • ‘Support children and young people at meal or snack times’
  • ‘Support children and young people’s travel outside the setting’
  • ‘Support extra-curricular activities’

This chapter explores the basic knowledge of food hygiene, preparing food and also dietary requirements.

Schools trips and the safety of these trips are explored.

14 Supporting assessment for learning

A guide for QCF unit ‘Support Assessment for Learning’.

This chapter explores ways to help pupil’s development and raise achievements. Formative assessments and learning goals are discussed along with assessment forms and school reports.

>> Information on Teaching Assistant qualifications and courses